Macquarie Lighthouse celebrates 200 years serving seafarers near Sydney Harbour
In 1976, Peter Schirk flicked the switch in the Macquarie Lighthouse for the last time.
Its light, which was once the world’s most powerful and beamed 40 kilometres out to sea, had been fully automated and no longer needed a keeper.
“I used to go in there every morning and every night to turn on and off the lights,” he recalled.
“It was a lovely spot to be, looking out at the harbour.”
Mr Schirk lived in one of the lightstation cottages in the 1970s and 1980s. (ABC Sydney: Amanda Hoh)
Mr Schirk felt a touch of nostalgia as he joined former colleagues at the station on Friday to mark its 200th anniversary.
Macquarie Lighthouse is Australia’s oldest navigational light; the site at Vaucluse near the entrance to Sydney Harbour has been operating since 1791.
The original lighthouse tower was completed in 1818 by convict Francis Greenway, who earned a pardoned from Governor Lachlan Macquarie for his work.
At the time, the structure was powered by oil-burning lamps set against reflectors.
A light equal to six million candles
The only part of the first station that remains is a section of sandstone wall that surrounded it.
Due to erosion, the lighthouse was replaced in 1883 with a larger design that could produce a light the equivalent of six million candles.
Mr Schirk was a lighthouse mechanic who lived in one of the adjacent cottages and among the last keepers to leave the site in 1989.
Since 1976, the lighthouse has been fully automated and flashes every 10 seconds at night.
It is managed and controlled by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority out of Canberra.
“It continues to be a working lighthouse and continues to be vital in navigation,” said Daniel Fealey from the Harbour Trust, which maintains the station.
“Historically it still provides an important link to the colony — it faced the world to greet the ships coming from the mother country.”
Panoramic view of Sydney
Stepping inside the lighthouse out of the harsh sun and heat, there’s a distinct drop in temperature.
There are glimpses of the harbour as you ascend the 100 metal steps up the tower.
Through one dirty window set into the sandstone is a view of the Harbour Bridge.
On the uppermost platform, the powerful lens and lamp is arresting.
The large dome continuously rotates and during the day; rainbows bounce off its reflectors as light enters through the surrounding panelled windows.
A small doorway, only about a metre high, opens onto the verandah.
From here, 26 metres above the ground, is a perfect 360-degree panorama that stretches from the Opera House and Harbour Bridge on one side to the ocean and horizon on the other.
It was from here that Mr Schirk would glance at the passing ships.
“I didn’t sit up here all day, but it was a pretty nice place to work,” he said.
The Harbour Trust will host a community day at the light station on Saturday that will include a barbecue, children’s activities and tours of the station.
Tours inside the tower have been booked out although they will resume in 2019.